Activist Dees to speak on tolerance, civil rights

Kristy Mason

Civil rights activist Morris Dees will speak at Western this week about how a commitment to stopping discrimination is essential to the health of the nation.

Dees will focus on hate crimes and the need to teach tolerance, love and respect for one another. He believes that the United States can be a tolerant and free nation as well as ensure civil liberties and personal freedom.

The Campus Activities Board is sponsoring Dees’ appearance at 7 p.m. Thursday at DUC Theater.

Howard Bailey, associate vice president of student affairs, said Dees’ lecture will help students understand why they shouldn’t tolerate hate groups.

“The content of his message lets all of us know how threatening hate groups are to our democracy and our way of life,” Bailey said.

Dees founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971. The organization specializes in civil right violations, domestic terrorists and racially motivated crimes. The SPLC has won several legal battles against the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation and many other hate groups.

A graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, Dees has fought domestic terrorism for over twenty years, developing an educational program called “Teaching Tolerance.”

His work has been the focus of several movies. “Line of Fire,” which aired on NBC in 1991, centered on his life, as did the 1996 movie “Ghosts of the Mississippi.”

Dees also received the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

Scott Taylor, director of University Center and Leadership Programs, said that students can expect Dees to challenge them to realize that things won’t improve unless they take action.

“Dees is a very powerful speaker, a soft-spoken attorney that has devoted his life fighting hate groups in America,” Taylor said. “He’s an outstanding speaker. I had cold chills listening to him.”

Suzanne Feliciano, a photographer with the State-Journal in Frankfort, strongly supports Dees’ work in fighting hate groups.

“His life is inspirational because while many of us have grown tired and/or cynical, he seems to keep the faith and plunge ahead despite the conservative political climate of the day,” Feliciano said. “His effectiveness … can be measured by the innumerable Web sites calling him every name in the book. I think that is one of his strong points – his determination.”

Reach Kristy L. Mason at [email protected]